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Bosworth and the End of Richard's Story

The Changing Exhibit at Bosworth

Today we went over to Bosworth Field, where the Battle of Bosworth was fought between Richard III and Henry Tudor on August 22nd 1485. The English Heritage Center at the battlefield site was really amazing. If you go around and read everything in the exhibit and then walk around the battlefield, you really get a feel for Richard's whole life and how it all just comes unravelled after the first year that he's king. The center is very kid friendly too. They have armor you can put on and interactive things to do. (You'll just need to make sure to see Shelly and Erin in the helms.) My absolute favorite was a presentation of the events of the battle projected on screens around a room, while a map table in the center of the room lets you see exactly where everyone was and what they were doing. Made the walk around the battlefield a lot more meaningful.

I'm sure the center is a little frustrated about how their bit of history keeps changing. The center was constructed a long time ago, before they figured out where the real battlefield was. (Which was only in 2011.) So, they've had to make a long walking trail to get you from the center over to where the battle actually was fought. And they haven't really gotten a grip on what to do about the fact that Richard's body turned up this past year under a parking lot in Leichester. Doubtless all this hub-bub is bringing them more business, but it also means having to revamp an exhibit that's just been revamped.

The Sad Bit

The Battle of Bosworth is the end of the story really for Richard III. So, if you don't remember who Richard is, click here and read my short summary, and then come back.

A year after his little boy died (that's the effigy we saw at the Church at Sheriff Hutton), Richard's wife Anne died. I didn't realize he'd been raised in the household of Anne's parents— I guess that means they'd known each other all their lives, which explains why they were so close. A bit after Anne dies, a distant, distant cousin invaded England with mercenaries from France and discontented Lancasters who had been living in France. (Richard played for Team York, of course.) And against the odds, the cousin's troops manage to kill Richard. So a really bad couple of years. Richard's last act was to take his own personal body of knights and charge across a swampy area to attack Henry the invader himself. He does actually manage to cut through Henry's body guard and kill his standard bearer that's next to him. That's such a reckless thing to do though— definitely a calculated gamble that they'd have sung songs about if he'd succeeded— but still, makes you wonder. His whole family is gone. His parents, his brother, his little boy, his wife, by this time he has extreme scoliosis and would have been in severe pain. He must have also realized that some of his nobles had decided to turn coats that day. Nobles who he thought would bring men to support him at the battle decide to stay home instead. And two armies led by the Stanleys (the step-father and stepbrother of Henry, but oath-bound to Richard) are standing aside watching the battle but not committing themselves yet to one side or the other. So Richard's charge smells a little bit like the actions of someone who literally doesn't care if he lives or dies.

Henry's body guard fights back, and it's at that moment that one of the armies standing to the side enters the battle— on Henry's side. Richard and his men retreat back across the swamp. Richard's horse loses its footing and goes down. His men try to remount him, but are set upon by the combined forces. Richard continues to fight on foot trying to get away. Because they recovered his body last year, we know that he took multiple severe blows, each of which would have killed him. Once he was down and dead, he was stripped and his body continued to be mauled and humiliated.

This is a replica of a boar badge found on the field. The boar was Richard's personal badge and these silver badges were only given out to Richard's Knights on the occasion of his coronation and when his son was made Prince of Wales. So it is likely that the spot where it was found may mark where Richard and his knights were killed.

Tradition says that when he'd ridden out from the White Boar Inn that morning, his horse, "White Surrey," had skittered a bit going over the stone bridge out of the town. Richard's spurs struck the stone and jingled. A beggar stepped out and spoke a prophesy, "Your heels have struck the bridge as you ride out, but before the day is done, it will be your head that strikes it as you come back." A chilling legend, as we now know, indeed, they tied his hands and threw his stripped body over the back of a horse to take it back to Leichester to be displayed and then buried in a hastily dug grave that was too small for them to lay him out properly. They seem to have put the body in with his hands still tied.

The Question

The thing that really struck me as I walked around viewing Richard's life at the Bosworth exhibit was— He was such a team player. He backed his Dad up by starting to fight in battles as a teenager, he backed up his brother Edward when it looked like Team York was losing, he stood by him when they started winning, he became a careful administrator when that's what his family needed, he married when it was advantageous for them (having not married when it wasn't). Really, for most of his life there's just nothing much to say bad about him (well you know, for someone who is involved in the War of the Roses).

So why did he become king? Whether he instigated having his brother Edward's children declared illegitimate or not, he agreed to it. Whether he had the two boys killed or not, he agreed that they should be set aside and he agreed to become king. Perhaps that was a moment of greed? A moment where the younger brother sees his opening? But it just doesn't seem of apiece with most of the rest of his life. I wonder whether it looked like Team York was about to lose its grip on the throne if the little boy was made king? Everyone remembered what a mess it had made when the last boy king held the throne (Henry VI)— perhaps there was not much popular support for doing that again? Perhaps it looked to Richard like a weak York child-king would be an invitation to the Lancasters to make a bid for the throne. (That DOES seem of apiece with his life, since he had fought for most of his life to make sure the York branch of the Plantagenents retained the throne.)

At the point he becomes king, he does look like a better choice. He's an adult, he's a proven warrior and administrator. He's been around the machinations of court all his life. He is happily married and has a male heir about ten years old. His wife's family is old, prestigious, wealthy, and powerful.

Inevitable?

Henry Tudor had made a try for the throne the first year Richard was king. I assume that Bosworth Field was going to happen no matter which York was on the throne. If Henry Tudor (a man with no battle experience and hired guns) would attack Richard as king, he likely enough would still have attacked Edward the little boy (Richard's nephew) if he had been allowed to be king. Richard and Edward are, after all, both Team York, and Henry is on Team Lancaster. Either way though, it would have been Richard on that battle field fighting, whether for himself or for his nephew. And the Stanleys would still have been standing back, waiting to see which side looked likely to win, and then coming in on that side. Stepping through the events, there's a ring of inevitability to the whole thing.

What They Said at the Time:

The York Book, 23rd August 1485 records, "piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city.

The Crowland Chronicle of 1486 says, "…struck by many mortal wounds, as a bold and most valiant prince…"

De Valera in 1486 says that Richards last words were, "God forbid I yield one step. This day I will die as king or win…"

The Chronicle of Jean Mounet Burgundy (c. 1490) says "His horse leapt into a marsh from which it could not retrieve itself. One of the Welshmen then came after him, and struck him dead with a halberd… And so he who miserably killed numerous people, ended his days iniquitously and filthily in the dirt and mire…"

Pretty Pics:

Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version and enter a slideshow of the larger versions.

Battle of Bosworth Entrance
Battle of Bosworth Entrance
Flag with Richard III's Heraldry
Flag with Richard III's Heraldry
Red and white cross is the sign of St. George (England's patron saint), a white boar (Richard's personal badge), and a white rose in a sunburst (a York family badge).
Sundial of the Battle
Sundial of the Battle
The sundial lets you see what was happening in the battle at this time of day on August 22nd 1485.
DSC01586
DSC01586
So if you look at a book written before 2011 or so, they will tell the Battle of Bosworth wrong. That's because since the 1780s historians have said it was fought at Ambion Hill, but a survey of the land done with metal dectectors from 2005-2010 discovered that the battle field was actually over by a swamp where a windmill used to be.
Shot
Shot
They have recovered more cannon shot on Bosworth Field than in all the other battles of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries combined.
Flat fields
Flat fields
In general, the terrain is flat and I thought it didn't seem to offer much advantage or disadvantage. But I was wrong.
Canal Boat next to the Battlefield
Canal Boat next to the Battlefield
So modernly, there is a canal just beyond this field. You can see someone's head above the grass going along in his boat. This used to be a swamp at the time of the battle.
Richard's Well
Richard's Well
By legend, it is said Richard drank from this Spring the morning of the battle. The story made more sense before the location of the battle field was found to be in a different spot, but it is still possible he came past this way.
The Teams
The Teams
The War of the Roses
The War of the Roses
This is a little simplistic, in that what historians call "The War of the Roses" was a series of civil wars, and each was fought for slightly different reasons, by slightly different combinations of people. So saying it is the white rose of York against the red rose of Lancaster doesn't quite get it.
The Cousins Wars
The Cousins Wars
When it was going on, the medieval people called these conflicts, "The Cousins Wars." That maybe sums it up better. Notice all the participants are pretty close relatives? (Well except for Henry VII who ends up king at the end of it— he's just baaaaarely related to the rest.
Fifteenth Century Stuff
Fifteenth Century Stuff
Shelly trying on a helm
Shelly trying on a helm
Erin in a helm
Erin in a helm
Erin in the next helm
Erin in the next helm
And Shelly's second helm
And Shelly's second helm
Armor display that you can touch
Armor display that you can touch
Horse armor
Horse armor
Display of medical stuff has slugs in its display
Display of medical stuff has slugs in its display
Barber surgeon's tools
Barber surgeon's tools

Horse Pendants Found on the Battlefield
Horse Pendants Found on the Battlefield

They went over the fields with metal detectors in a grid of 10 meters, then a grid of 5 meters, and finally in grids of 2.5 meters.

Belt Fittings found on the Battlefield
Belt Fittings found on the Battlefield
Dagger and Scabbard Fittings
Dagger and Scabbard Fittings
Buckles found on the Battlefield
Buckles found on the Battlefield
Gold Ring found on the Battlefield
Gold Ring found on the Battlefield